Budget roundtable suggests supporting older workers through job redesign, flexible work

(From left) ST associate editor Vikram Khanna moderating the roundtable with the four panellists: Singapore Business Federation CEO Ho Meng Kit, UOB economist Barnabas Gan, Labour MP and NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay and Singapore Univ
(From left) ST associate editor Vikram Khanna moderating the roundtable with the four panellists: Singapore Business Federation CEO Ho Meng Kit, UOB economist Barnabas Gan, Labour MP and NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay and Singapore University of Social Sciences economist Walter Theseira. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Redesigned jobs, flexible work arrangements with fair pay, and a dedicated job portal are some ways to help older Singaporeans stay in the workforce, experts said at a roundtable following Monday's Budget.

Another suggestion was to look at more closely aligning the retirement age, currently at 62, with the Central Provident Fund (CPF) payout eligibility age, which is 65.

These were among the ideas given by four panellists at The Straits Times Roundtable on Singapore Budget 2019 on Wednesday (Feb 20), where they discussed the Government's financial plans for the upcoming fiscal year.

In the hour-long session, moderated by ST associate editor Vikram Khanna, the experts gave their views on the various initiatives to help workers and companies adapt in a changing global environment, as well as measures to address issues such as healthcare costs and social mobility.

They also delved into the issue of support for older workers.

During his Budget speech, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said the Special Employment Credit (SEC) and the Additional SEC scheme, which incentivise and encourage employers to hire senior workers, will both be extended for another year, until Dec 31 next year (2020).

Mr Heng added that a tripartite workgroup studying the concerns of older workers will present its recommendations later this year.

Singapore University of Social Sciences economist Walter Theseira, one of the panellists, called for more flexible work arrangements for older workers, who may not want to work at the same level of intensity as before.

But the pay must be equitable, the Nominated MP noted.

 
 

"If somebody either can't work at full capacity or doesn't want to, then of course their wages have to adjust to some extent. Flexibility has to be there, but it has to be done in a way that is not unfair to the older worker," he said.

Prof Theseira said the Government could study aligning the retirement age with the CPF eligible payout age. He made the point that there is a "gap" between when workers are legally protected from being unfairly dismissed due to age and when their retirement support can begin.

While there are guidelines leading up to the re-employment age of 67, workers do not have certainty in the conditions of employment, he added.

UOB economist Barnabas Gan suggested a job portal through which older workers can get part-time contract jobs. Compared to one or two decades ago, senior workers today are more educated and could contribute in consultative or mentorship roles in companies, Mr Gan said.

 
 

Labour MP Patrick Tay said there needs to be more efforts to re-design jobs to make them "easier, safer, and smarter" for older workers, by leveraging on technologies such as artificial intelligence or digitalisation.

Mr Tay, who is an NTUC assistant secretary-general, said society's mindset as a whole has to change, to be more accepting of senior workers.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit expects the tripartite workgroup to recommend regulations for the employment of older workers.

There needs to be a careful balance, he said, cautioning that while larger companies have resources to meet the requirements, smaller firms may "shed the older workers", if the rules are too stringent.